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MINING MONTH: BC's long history of mining

·3 min read

Mining has a long history in British Columbia, particularly the mining of gold. More than 150 years ago, two gold-rushes took place, one beginning in 1858 along the Fraser River, and another beginning in 1862 when gold was discovered in the Cariboo region.

These gold-rushes brought in a massive influx of people to an area that had been sparsely populated by fur traders and indigenous peoples, and helped to usher in a new era, which culminated in BC first becoming a Crown Colony in 1858 and a few years later in 1871, a province.

Today, mining remains an integral part of BC’s economy. In 2017, mining activities in BC generated more than $11.7 billion in gross revenues. Also in 2017, companies invested $1.5 billion in mining related capital expenditures around the province.

According to the Mining Association of BC (MABC), “The mining industry is a capital-intensive industry and BC mining companies work closely with mining supply companies throughout the province. From heavy equipment and industrial materials to transportation, environmental sciences and more, every job in the BC mining industry, supports two jobs in mining supply and services.”

Mining directly employed more than 10,000 people in the province in 2017, many of them working local projects in their home communities. According to this data, that makes the mining industry the largest private sector employer of indigenous people in Canada.

BC is a diverse province, with many different landscapes and geographical features, and thus rich and diverse mineral deposits, which occur in every region of the province. From Northern BC to Vancouver Island, from the Interior to the Kootenays, BC is a leading jurisdiction for copper, coal, zinc, silver, golf, lead, molybdenum and more.

“BC is Canada’s largest producer of copper and steelmaking coal, the second largest producers of silver, and the only producer of molybdenum,” said the MABC.

Molybdenum, a chemical element with the symbol Mo, is primarily used in making steel alloys. It increases strength and hardness, improves electrical conductivity and increases resistance to wear and corrosion. This structural product is known as “moly steel”, and accounts for roughly 35% of molybdenum use. About 14% is used in the chemical industry as a catalyst and lubricant.

Other uses include pigments and fertilizer.

Technological advances in mining in the past several years have also made it possible for tailings from mines, even those in operation decades prior, to be re-mined for valuable minerals such as molybdenum or even gold, copper and silver, in a way that was not economical at the time the tailings were created.

BC has some of the most rigorous regulations in place which take into consideration environmental, economic, heritage, social and health effects of a project. These cover all stages of a mining operation, from planning and permitting to development, production, and eventually reclamation.

BC’s mining companies are also among the lowest greenhouse gas emission-intensive in the world, with the BC Health, Safety and Reclamation Code for Mines considered a benchmark for best practices the world over.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald